Chapter 16--hit the road, jackJack woke up to the gentle swaying of the titanic S. S. Chrysler sailing full steam ahead through rolling oceans of farm fields. The unevenness of the road caused the front end of the car to pitch up and down like a ship nosing its way through billowing waves. Brendan skillfully piloted through traffic as they made their way westward from Iowa City. Jack was bound for Denver at last.
A sign along the highway showed that they were approaching Des Moines, and Jack sank a little lower in his seat while pretending to sleep again. He had been on the run from a Des Moines Register investigation and a wild raccoon army for the past two days. Now it seemed to Jack that he was returning to the scene of the crime.
“But what crime?” thought Jack to himself. Why was he being sought for questioning? Why was he being chased by raccoons? What connection could he possibly have with what the newspaper called “financial irregularities”? If they could just slip past Des Moines without getting caught, Jack felt that he might make it all the way to the great mountains of the west, where he would be safe. Then maybe he could find some answers to these questions.
More than an hour later, Jack woke up again. He had fallen asleep while pretending to be asleep. The mile markers showed that they were well past Des Moines and would soon be leaving Iowa all together. Jack breathed a sigh of relief and sat up. Seeing that Jack was awake, Brendan spoke up. “We need to stop for gas pretty soon.”
“Are you sure it’s safe?” asked Jack.
“What’s safe? Shelby?”
“How do you know about Kelby?”
“Kelby? Yeah, I know Kelby. But I’m talking about Shelby,” explained Brendan with the patience of a kindergarten teacher. “There’s a town just ahead called Shelby. We need to stop there for gas.”
“Oh,” mumbled Jack, and then he was quiet for a moment. It occurred to Jack that he should help pay for gas, but he only had 99¢ left in his pocket. Even if Jack put all that money into the tank, it would probably be barely enough to propel the gas-guzzling monster back out of the parking lot. Besides, Jack was hoping to use that money for food later on. Maybe he could find another Hy-Vee down the road with a 99¢ supper to match the 99¢ breakfast he had eaten that morning. It might be his last chance for a good meal.
What would Sister Kim do? Jack stared out of the window and watched the scenery drift by. Offering to help pay for gas would be the right thing to do, even if was all the money Jack had. Jack had made it this far. He would just have to deal with whatever happened next. Besides, he was pretty sure that Brendan had just mentioned knowing Kelby.
This was quite a stroke of luck because even though Jack knew that he was supposed to head to the big mountains of the west to find Kelby, he really had no idea where to start looking once he was out there.
Of course, Brendan might have been talking about a different Kelby just by coincidence. But then again, there couldn’t be that many Kelbys out there. Or was it Kelbies? Or maybe the plural should be Kelbi. “Whatever,” thought Jack as Brendan pulled the S. S. Chrysler to starboard and exited from I-80 for the little town of Shelby. They parked at the pumps, and Brendan fueled up the car while Jack headed into the gas station for the restroom.
On his way out of the restroom, Jack overheard two customers arguing with each other by the vending machines. “We’ve been working on this stupid route from Missouri Valley for three days now, and I’m sick of it,” snapped the first customer. He was wearing a baseball cap pulled down low over his eyes.
“Oh yeah? We’ve been stuck in the same car together for three days, and I’m sick of you!” hissed the other customer, who was wearing dark sunglasses.
“Shut it. Marne can’t be the last town on the route if we stay in Atlantic. We’ve got our orders.”
“That means we’ll have to rework the route. We might even have to choose a different overnight town.”
“Then there’s no way we can make budget. They’ve been clamping down on expenses ever since the new computer auditing system discovered the scam.”
“Relax. It’ll all sort out once they catch that run-away orphan and feed him to the raccoons. Besides, this computer thing is just a fad. Within ten years, they’ll be as popular as 8-Tracks.”
Jack had heard enough. He slipped quietly out of the gas station and into Brendan’s car, sinking as far down into the seat as he could.